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Index to Aviation Stories on Thamesweb
Royal Windsor History Index Royal Windsor Home Page

The First Aircraft over Windsor

1911 and Tommy Sopwith lands at Windsor Castle
as George V watches with his family

Tommy Sopwith at Windsor

Tommy Sopwith lands at Windsor Castle, on the lawns by the East Terrace.

For 95 years, since February 1st 1911, aircraft have been flying over Windsor Castle. February 2006 sees the 95th anniversary of the first flight by Tommy Sopwith when he flew his aeroplane from Brooklands to Windsor. Little could he imagine that less than 70 years later Brooklands would play a major part in the construction of the supersonic Concorde passenger plane which was to fly over the castle several times a day from 1976 to 2003 and even less could he have imagined that 100 years on, Brooklands would have on display Delta Golf, one of the development Concordes.

Thomas 'Tommy' Sopwith (1888-1989) was interested in both motor racing and flight. He taught himself to fly in a Howard Wright monoplane that he bought in 1910, gaining his licence in November that year at Brooklands. Shortly thereafter he won the £4,000 Baron de Forest Prize for his flight from England to Beaumont in Belgium, a distance of 169 miles (272 km) on 18 December 1910.
  In the picture above he has flown an aircraft from Brooklands to Windsor, a distance of just 10 miles, at the request of King George V. The date was Wednesday February 1st 1911 and is believed to be the first flight of any aircraft to the castle or Windsor. Arthur Goddard, in his book '
Windsor: The Castle of Kings' writes:

On Wednesday, February 1st of the current year, Windsor was the scene of an interesting incident which illustrated in very practical fashion the progress which has been made in the world of invention since William of Normandy built his fortress on the great hill above the Thames. A young aviator, Mr. Tom Sopwith, winner of a £4,000 prize for the longest British flight on a British machine, flew from Brooklands to Windsor, where he alighted, with the grace of a bird, after circling with the greatest ease above the trees in the Home Park and the towers of the Castle itself, finally descending upon a spot close to where, upon the East Terrace, stood King George V and his children. The aviator was presented to the King, who congratulated him upon his successful flight, and then, with his children, carefully examined the aeroplane, in which His Majesty showed keen interest.
  When it is remembered that the practice of aviation has already passed far beyond the primitive stage when it was regarded as merely something more or less in the nature of a freak pastime, and that as a science it has made exceptional strides even during the past few months, it seems fitting that King George should have shown himself sympathetically inclined towards it at so early a period of his reign. In the nineteenth century, it is true, the problem of flight was discussed seriously in the world of science, but scarcely regarded so by the public generally, and wits of the period poked fun at it with pen and pencil, George Cruikshank and others finding in the subject a fertile field in which to cultivate their sense of humour. But the aeronautics with which they dealt and at which they laughed, were chiefly concerned with balloons, ballooning, and what was not infrequently dubbed balloonacy. The day of dirigibles had not then arrived, while aeroplanes had not entered at all into the scheme of practical mechanics. In those days a motor-car, as we know it now, would have been a revelation, and the navigation of the impalpable air, as it is understood and accomplished to-day, would have seemed neither more nor less than a fantastic dream.
  It is inevitable that some of the most notable manifestations and developments of aeronautical science will, in days to come, not only be definitely and instinctively associated with the present reign, but that the name of King George will be indissolubly linked to the earliest examples of it, for the Aerial Post to Windsor fired the imagination of millions, and was of peculiar interest to all who indulge in mental glances into the future.
  The Sopwith flight from Brooklands to Windsor, and the reception of the aviator by King George, cannot fail to find a place in the history of aeronautics.

Around eight months later, in September 1911, Gustav Hamel would be the first to fly 'Aerial Post' from Hendon to Windsor. Aerial Post

See also

Index to Aviation Stories on Thamesweb
Royal Windsor History Index Royal Windsor Home Page

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